Turkey, France: Longtime rivalry on the horizon?

(L to R) Libyan Prime Minister Fayez al-Serraj, President of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, French President Emmanuel Macron. (Agencies)
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Updated 28 June 2020

Turkey, France: Longtime rivalry on the horizon?

  • France, which accuses Ankara of blocking truce efforts in Libya and breaking the UN arms embargo, also recently urged talks among NATO allies about Turkey’s “aggressive” role in Libya

ANKARA: Current tensions between Paris and Ankara — especially over Libya, Syria and the east Mediterranean — risk turning into longtime rivalry, experts say.

The conflict began escalating last November when Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan advised his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron to “check whether he is brain dead” after the two leaders traded criticism over Ankara’s cross-border offensive in northeast Syria.

Turkey recently blamed France for “dragging Libya into chaos,” just a day after Macron accused Ankara of being involved in a “dangerous game” in Libya and urged Erdogan to end his activities in the war-torn country.

Turkey backs the Government of National Accord (GNA) in Tripoli and has accused France of favoring GNA’s rival eastern commander Khalifa Haftar, although Paris denies this.

Tensions between the two NATO allies recently escalated after a standoff between Turkish warships and a French naval vessel in the Mediterranean on June 10. France criticized the alleged nuisance to a French ship by Turkish frigates in terms of NATO’s rules of engagement.

Although Ankara denied the accusation, NATO is conducting an investigation into the incident.

Turkey detained four of its nationals on June 22 on suspicion of spying for France through conservative and religious groups.

With all the political and military cards on the table, the crucial question is whether such heated exchanges may escalate to the point of rivalry and change the already fragile balance.

“A supposed competition between France and Turkey in Libya and the Mediterranean is only one angle to a wider geopolitical trend comprising both Russia and Turkey, in more or less coordinated ways,” Marc Pierini, a visiting scholar at Carnegie Europe, told Arab News.

Pierini, a former EU ambassador to Turkey, made a comparison between Russia’s challenge to the Western bloc and Turkey’s recent moves.


Turkey recently blamed France for ‘dragging Libya into chaos,’ just a day after Macron accused Ankara of being involved in a ‘dangerous game’ in Libya and urged Erdogan to end his activities in the war-torn country.

“Russia has long started to challenge NATO and the EU with the annexation of Crimea. It pursued its military and political interests by installing or enlarging bases in Syria. In a consistent fashion, Moscow is now extending its military footprint to Libya,” he said. “Turkey is following a similar pattern; following its four distinct military operations in northern Syria it has now unilaterally changed the eastern Mediterranean maritime boundaries with the consent of Libya’s GNA against military support.”

In addition to Ankara’s controversial purchase of the Russian S-400 missile defense system, Pierini thinks that Russia and Turkey have created a new geopolitical reality on the southern flank of Europe.

“For the EU, the UK, the US and NATO, this is a new challenge,” he said.

France, which accuses Ankara of blocking truce efforts in Libya and breaking the UN arms embargo, also recently urged talks among NATO allies about Turkey’s “aggressive” role in Libya.

For Emre Kursat Kaya, a security analyst with the Istanbul-based Center for Economics and Foreign Policy Studies (EDAM), if actors such as Germany or Italy do not manage to bridge the gap, the current situation may turn into a geopolitical rivalry.

“There is a clear need for an arbitrator. The situation is more complicated than simply ideological differences. It is about conflicting interests in the Mediterranean and even sub-Saharan Africa,” Kaya told Arab News.

He thinks that such a rivalry might have structural impacts on NATO.

“The current French government has an agenda to build a stronger European defense initiative. It advances Turkey’s actions as examples of why such an alternative is necessary. In recent events, Paris has opted to side with Ankara’s regional adversaries such as the Syrian Kurdish YPG, Egypt and United Arab Emirates,” Kaya said.

“The Turkish government might use such behavior from one of its allies to legitimize its non-NATO partnerships at home and abroad,” he said.

Ozgur Unluhisarcikli, Ankara office director of the German Marshall Fund of the United States, thinks that the clashing interests of Turkey and France have created a simmering geopolitical competition between the two countries, especially in Libya.

“Both countries are acting based on their perceived national interest although they put forward other arguments. Unless a modus vivendi between Turkey and France is reached, this competition could evolve into rivalry inevitably reflecting on EU-Turkey relations, making even transactional cooperation between the two very difficult,” he told Arab News.

According to Unluhisarcikli, to avoid such a situation the two countries need to implement measures facilitated by a trusted third party.

“One confidence-building measure could be Turkey recognizing France as a negotiating party rather than dealing only with Russia. Germany, a NATO ally that also currently holds the rotating presidency of the EU, has already taken the initiative for a ceasefire in Libya and is therefore well-positioned to facilitate such a process,” he said.

Dubai reopens doors to tourists after long shutdown

Updated 07 July 2020

Dubai reopens doors to tourists after long shutdown

  • Incoming tourists are required to present a negative test result taken within four days of the flight
  • Dubai is known for its mega malls, high-end restaurants and five-star hotels and resorts

DUBAI: With a “welcome” passport sticker and coronavirus tests on arrival, Dubai reopened its doors to international visitors Tuesday in the hope of reviving its tourism industry after a nearly four-month closure.
But businesses are mainly betting on those already living in the gleaming desert city to energise its ailing economy and serve as a test run before wary foreign holidaymakers return.
“A warm welcome to your second home,” said the sticker applied to passports at Dubai airport, where employees wore hazmat suits and vending machines offered personal protective equipment.
Italian tourist Francesca Conte said on arrival she was worried up until the last minute that her flight would be canceled.
“When I saw passengers queueing at the gate, I thought today we are not leaving, since the trip to Dubai had already been skipped three times,” Conte said.
She said she felt sad “seeing empty spaces” on the plane and stewards and hostesses “dressed like nurses and doctors,” in their lab coats.
The reopening Tuesday came as the number of COVID-19 cases in the United Arab Emirates climbed to 52,600 included 326 deaths, with millions of foreign workers living in cramped accommodation particularly hard hit.
Incoming tourists are required to present a negative test result taken within four days of the flight. If not, they can take the test on arrival, but must self-isolate until they receive the all-clear.
Tourism has long been the lifeline of the glitzy Gulf emirate, one of the seven sheikhdoms that make up the UAE.
High season starts in October when the scorching heat of the Gulf summer starts to dissipate.
Dubai welcomed more than 16.7 million visitors last year, and before the pandemic crippled global travel, the aim had been to reach 20 million arrivals in 2020.
“We are ready to receive tourists while we take all necessary precautions,” said Talal Al-Shanqiti of Dubai’s General Directorate of Residency and Foreigners Affairs in a video message tweeted on Sunday.
With scant oil resources compared to its neighbors, Dubai has built the most diversified economy in the Gulf, boasting a reputation as a financial, commercial and tourism hub despite an economic downturn in recent years.
The city-state is known for its mega malls, high-end restaurants and five-star hotels and resorts.
But all have taken a severe hit during the coronavirus outbreak, and Dubai’s GDP in the first quarter of 2020 contracted 3.5 percent following two years of modest growth.
Dubai-based airline Emirates, the largest in the Middle East, has been forced to slash its sprawling network and is believed to have laid off thousands of staff.
Before reopening to international tourists, authorities launched social media campaigns and deployed hundreds of social media “influencers” to tout Dubai’s attractions.
As the hospitality business works out how to create an environment that follows strict hygiene rules but is still worth the hassle for potential foreign clients, hotels are offering Dubai residents “staycation” and “daycation” deals to offset the slump.
Restarting hospitality by “primarily targeting the domestic market is an important first step in our phased approach toward restoring normalcy in the tourism industry,” said Issam Kazim, CEO of the Dubai Corporation for Tourism and Commerce Marketing.
And key to the effort are health and safety measures at hotels to “reassure guests and travelers that Dubai is one of the world’s safest destinations,” he said in a statement last month.
Boosting domestic tourism is also part of the strategy of the UAE’s other main destination, the oil-rich capital Abu Dhabi, which welcomed a record 11.35 million international visitors in 2019.
The UAE’s capital is home to top attractions including an F1 circuit and the Louvre Abu Dhabi museum, which in late June opened its doors to masked, gloved visitors after a 100-day closure.
But the emirate does not share Dubai’s enthusiasm about opening doors to foreign tourists just yet, although those with negative test results are now allowed to enter.
“Plans have changed and we are not expecting to have the same numbers of 2019 this year definitely. It would take another two to three years,” said Ali Al-Shaiba, executive director of tourism and marketing for the Abu Dhabi Department of Culture and Tourism.
“As of today, I can say domestic tourism is what is in our plan. We believe domestic tourism is key now and we don’t see us opening for international travelers very soon,” he told AFP on Monday.